Good afternoon from the so-far happy chaos of Soccer City. The official opening ceremonies just started in a mostly empty stadium with kickoff between the home team and Mexico still nearly two hours away.
One reason for those absent spectators might be the fact that the various roads leading to the stadium have essentially ground to a halt. Driving is a way of life here - both because the public transportation infrastructure isn't all that great, and because it's widely perceived to be unsafe. (Guy in a pub last night told me that his now grown daughters had never in their lives been on a bus, train or in a taxi - not really boasting or regretful about it, just stating it as a fact of life). So imagine what happens when despite pleas to do otherwise, everyone going to the match drives to the stadium, and everyone not going the match but wanting to be part of the party drives around town purely for recreation, while tooting a vuvuzuela (yes, you can do that while driving, even on a highway at 100 km/h. Believe me) With hardly a cop in sight, the folks heading towards the stadium on one road - two way - got fed up with waiting, and invaded the oncoming lanes. Then, predictably, everything stopped dead, and so it was time for a bracing three kilometre walk with the crowd.
What a scene. Flags everywhere, kids dancing, absolute giddy joy - and of course those omnipresent horns (ear plug salesmen were doing a booming business along the route). You could hear the stadium before you could see it. It sounded from a distance like a giant hive full of very angry bees.
Now on to the match. Expectations have been pushed crazy high here for Bafana Bafana, based on the fact that they're undefeated in their last 12 - albeit against mediocre opposition, aside from a single victory over Denmark. Mexico is going to be a tough out for anyone in this tournament. They looked ragged in a pre-tournament friendly against England, but there's no reason to think they won't prevail today.
Make that almost no reason.
Funny things happen with home teams in the World Cup - and the emotions here are more intense, more complex, more layered with meaning than at any of the four others I've covered. Given that, it's not impossible to imagine something magical happening.
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